Who Says Your Vintage Sports Cars Have To Hibernate All Winter?
Photography by Rosario Liberti
There are quite a few winter events for classic cars going on while the vast majority are tucked into warm garages, with snow-filled weeks and weekends available to those gentlemen drivers who wish to participate to a regularity rally surrounded by Alps and don’t mind getting a little salt and snow wedged into the fenders. The Winter RAID is a relatively unknown gem of an event, and if for the moment it is overshadowed by larger productions such as the Winter Marathon, this is the only one of these winter rallies that starts and finishes in the spectacular St. Moritz.
The famous luxury resort, located in the über-alpine Engadin Valley, is the place were the notion of winter holidays had been conceived 150 years ago. Legend reports that, on a bet from Johannes Badrutt—a hotelkeeper who offered free accommodation if the guests didn’t like it—a group of British people stayed over in St. Moritz into the winter. So, probably bored of snowshoe walks and sunbathing, they started skating on the lake below the town, and then they introduced a daredevil one-man sled run called the Cresta Run. Now St. Moritz also has horse racing on ice, polo on ice, greyhound racing on ice, cricket on ice, and of course, plenty of skiing without it. But what about classic cars?
The British Classic Car Meeting, Passione Engadina, and the Bernina Granturismo play their part during the warmest months to bring vintage autos to this Swiss resort town, but for those looking for a sportive challenge combined with some truly wintry metrology, the Winter RAID is an event to keep track of.
Habitués and first time participants form an open, fair, and companionable community. Numerous friendships have been formed at this event, as teams will constantly share racing moments between each other rather than passive aggressive competition. As the organization, RAID, says, this is a truly international rally—one look at the time charts and a few minutes of listening to various accents confirms this. For me and Rosario, as well as for the participants, it all amounted to something pretty simply summarized: three intense days of fun in the snow.
The tasteful automotive adventure through the mountains began on Wednesday with a prologue of sorts on the route from St. Moritz to Madesimo and back to St. Moritz. On Thursday, the first day of racing, cars left St. Moritz and moved towards Pontresina. During the afternoon, crossing the Bernina, the Aprica, and the Tonale Passes, they reached Trento in the late evening.
The highlight of the second race day was the morning climb to Monte Grappa, the southernmost major mountain of the Dolomites range, rich in history, and in snow. In the afternoon, the quiet Val Martello brought some challenging roads into he mix, and drivers were treated to views of all but untouched landscapes all the way towards Bolzano. Saturday was spent driving back to St. Moritz and the finish line therein.
I was honestly shocked by the skill level amongst these drivers. I had been overtaken more than once—while following the race convoy in a Lamborghini Urus—by oversteering Porsche 924s and 944s on roads that were completely white. There was an entire squadron of lightweight and front-engined Porsches, and these transaxle cars were performing incredibly well on their spiked tires.
Stars of the race were Louis Frey and Patrick Dätwyler in their 1934 Lagonda M35 Le Mans Rapide: with their heavy black leather coats and caps, they drove sideways for most of the event, with just a very tiny pane of glass shielding the co-pilot the from wind, snow, and ice flung into the air—the lowest temperatures were marked around -10°C (14°F). Along with the light blue Alvis Special 20, the Lagonda was the oldest entry in the event. We fell in love with the 1969 Porsche ST #49, and the Marlboro-livered ex-Carlos Sainz Ford Sierra Cosworth, but there was plenty of variety, as you can see.
The prologue stage was won by Peter Esser and Christian Dollinger in their Volvo PV 544, second place for Christian Seidl and Christoph Herr in an Autobianchi A112, and the third position went to Carlo Lusser and Marcel Weiss in a Porsche 356 C.
The final Winter RAID ranking saw the first two positions secured by front-engined Porsches, as we had assumed: Bert De Peep and Didier De Terwangne in a 912, followed by the 924 of Markus Mehr and Ursi Ruoss. Third place went to Philipp Buhofer and Peter Lustenberger’s Austin-Healey 3000 MK II. We didn’t place anywhere of course—our modern super SUV a bit of an unfair advantage—but I’ll be damned if being a part of this didn’t make us all feel like we’d won some kind of lottery.